Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guest Post: The Management Lessons of Angry Birds

Angry Birds, that time-draining app that has spawned a cult phenomenon and a slew of stuffed toys at Walmart, might seem like an odd place to look for wisdom on accomplishing tasks. Nonetheless, the game offers several highly useful examples of how to manage yourself and others in order to get things accomplished:

You can only use what you have - Some levels, you wish you had a wood-smashing yellow bird, but all the game gives you are some fat, white birds. How on earth will you ever kill all the pigs with THAT??! So it is with employees and team mates – you have to find a way to get things done using what you have.

Not every resource can be applied in the same way, to the same problem, every time - Sometimes, that fat, white bird is a high-level bomber. Other times, it’s best to drop the egg and let the bird smash into the obstacles. Or that boomerang bird might be best used as a non-boomerang. You have to apply your resources to the situation at hand and remember that just because it worked over there doesn’t mean it’s going to work over here.

Challenge yourself and seek excellence - Personally, I never go on to the next level until I get 3 stars. Sure, I could move along as soon as I get the minimum 1 star and keep on playing, but there’s a lot to be said for seeking mastery in stead of only doing the least.

When you think you know what to do, taking a step back and thinking through your plan of attack is usually very worthwhile – When you can see where to hit what part of the structure, with which bird, check your aim and think through how the structure will fall – just in case. Nothing wrong with double checking your assumptions and making sure you get it right. Measure twice, cut once, so they say.

When you have no idea what to do, there is nothing worthwhile about taking a step back and thinking through your plan of attack – As much sense as it makes to double check when you are confident in your answer, it makes no sense to double check not knowing the answer. When you are completely at a loss, no amount of pondering will make you smarter. In these cases, you need to embrace the learning process and avoid looking for the immediate answer. Grip it and rip it.

Efficiency isn’t always rewarded - Yes, you can knock over the whole structure with just 3 birds. But that’s not ever going to get you 3 stars. Yes, perhaps it should, but it won’t – and that is the point. If the person judging you (a boss, or a customer) wants that which is less efficient but more spectacular – you now have to look inwards to see what you’re more willing to live with – a happy self or a happy customer. One isn’t always the same as the other.

Control is usually a far greater attribute than brute strength – Even when you have black bomber birds, if you don’t put them in the right place, they are useless. Same thing with having “Aces” and “Cracker Jacks.” If they aren’t in the right roles, at the right time and place, you’re just going to waste those resources. Maybe you can get by and earn your 1 star just to move on, but you’ll never get any farther than “just getting by.”

Brute Strength tends to work best at the beginning or at the end, but rarely in the middle of a process - Along the lines of Grip it and Rip it, taking a good first stab at something by blowing apart as much as you can is a great way to start, or a great way to finish if surgical precision doesn’t seem possible. Between the first and last efforts, however, there has to be some amount of careful and judicious effort. Otherwise, everything is just a completely random act. If that’s true, then you’re just guessing at every turn. Which a child could do. Which means no one needs you.

There’s a good deal of luck involved – When you are successful, keep in mind that not every outcome is a direct result of your efforts. Things still have to fall into place just right. Yes, you set them in motion, and the motion might have been what you intended, but there’s still some random chance involved. If you can launch the birds in exactly the same way, with exactly the same result, and the exact same score, over and over again – then…maybe…there isn’t any luck involved. Nonetheless, it’s probably best to stay humble.

Help is available - Ultimately, if you’re completely stuck, you can always go on-line and find the answers you seek. Struggle first, though, and learn as much as you can before looking up the answers.

About the Author:
David M. Kasprzak is the author and creator of the My Flexible Blog, where he shares his thoughts on improving workplace culture through the use of Lean concepts. While working as an analyst to develop and analyze program-level cost and schedule metrics for the past 12 years, David has now turned his attention towards understanding the behaviors that create high-performing organizations. In May of 2011, he received my MBA degree with a concentration in Marketing & Strategy.

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  1. Love this post! I can't wait to share it with all my Angry Birds-obsessed friends.

  2. David,

    Those are all good lessons for the lean thinker. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Thanks for posting my thoughts on Angry Birds, Tim! As I wasted away far, far too many hours playing the game I had a thought creep into my mind - that there was something to be said for planning & execution. That translated fairly easily into larger tasks, and made for a fun post.

    Glad to see folks enjoy it, and see some of the great lessons we can learn from simple things, too.

  4. A friend show me that game once, but I wasn't so amazed like her. Reading your post, it is true. You have what to learn from there, sometimes ... a lot.

  5. nice post... i guess most of the angry bird fans would admire it...